A Colorado judge has blocked Mesa County, Colorado Clerk Tina Peters from running the county’s elections this year — the result of a state lawsuit over Peters allowing an unauthorized person into a sensitive voting machine software update meeting, after which passwords and digital images of election software were leaked online.
Peters’ deputy, Belinda Knisley, was also barred from working on the upcoming election.
“The Court finds that Peters and Knisley breached their duties by failing to follow the rules and orders of the Secretary and the [Colorado Election] Code, neglected their duties by failing to take adequate precautions to protect confidential information, and committed wrongful acts by being untruthful,” Colorado District Court Judge Valerie J. Robison wrote.
Two officials currently filling in for the pair, former Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams and former Mesa County Clerk Sheila Reiner, now the county treasurer, will continue in their roles for the November 2021 elections, the judge said.
In a statement shared with TPM, Peters referred to the lawsuit as a “power grab” and a “stunning abuse of power” by Secretary of State Jena Griswold. She said she would appeal the decision.
Peters, a break-out star of pillow magnate Mike Lindell’s August “Cyber Symposium,” is alleged to have allowed an unauthorized person into a “trusted build,” the term for an in-person software update for election machines, earlier this year.
A week before the trusted build, on May 17, Knisley sent an email requesting the surveillance cameras in the county’s Election Department to be turned off, and to be turned on again on Aug. 1. Before and after the trusted build, the unauthorized person, Gerald Wood, took digital images of the county’s election machines. Peters herself took video and photos of the trusted build itself on May 25, the judge noted.
Robison said Peters had been “untruthful” with her staff and the secretary of state by calling Wood a Mesa County employee, and also that “Peters failed to follow the rules and orders of the Secretary by facilitating and allowing a non-employee (Gerald Wood) without a disclosed background check to have access to a secured area via a Mesa County access card.”
Material from that trusted build, including photos of passwords and digital images of election machines, were subsequently leaked online — an outcome that’s currently under local and federal criminal investigation — and presented on a big screen at Lindell’s conference. (It wasn’t the only unauthorized material on display.)
As the symposium began, officials from the secretary of state’s office showed up at Peters’ Mesa County office to look into the breach.
After the conference, Peters went into a brief period of hiding with Lindell’s help. At that point, Griswold, along with the Mesa County board of supervisors, filed the lawsuit to prevent Peters from having any control over the November 2021 elections.
Knisley was also charged criminally last month after she showed up at her office despite being on paid administrative leave, and in defiance of an order from the county administrator.
Through it all, Peters has remained defiant, attempting to twist the leak material into evidence of wrongdoing by the voting machine manufacturer Dominion and the secretary of state’s office.
“Why would the secretary of state have passwords to your elections machines?” she said at a rally this week. “Why are they secret? Why? Why? Why are they secret passwords? I didn’t know they were there.”
Colorado’s attorney general, Phil Weiser, celebrated Robison’s decision Wednesday.
“Because they breached their duties and committed wrongful acts, Tina Peters and Belinda Knisley cannot be allowed to manage the election in Mesa County,” Weiser said.
“The freedom to vote is one of the most sacred rights we have as Americans. Today’s ruling gives the voters in Mesa County the reassurance they need that the upcoming election will be free and fair, and administered in a manner that they and all Coloradans can trust.”